More than two decades of great food at the Impala Hotel
It has been twenty years since my first visit to Africa. Though I don’t remember much of anything else about 1988, I remember the day I got off the KLM flight at Kilimanjaro International Airport as if it were yesterday. And I also remember the Impala Hotel, where I stayed during much my time there. At the time, the Impala Hotel was a concrete block building with 12 rooms. On the ground floor was a restaurant as well as the reception. My first meal in Africa was there.
And what made the meal so memorable is an incident that the manager and I still laugh about to this day. The trip had been a business trip and the owner of the company was a bit worried that I might get frustrated with the more relaxed service pace of Arusha at the time and the chance that things might not go as expected. As an example, she said that “If you order spaghetti for dinner and they bring you a steak, just enjoy the steak and to make a fuss.” Great advise... almost.
Because that is exactly what happened at that meal. I ordered the spaghetti Bolognese and was given a T bone steak. The steak looked (and tasted) great and I dug in keeping quiet as I was advised. Until the waiter came around with the spaghetti, realized what he had done and became hysterical about the fact that I was eating the steak meant for the next table. Who overhead him and wanted to string me up by my spaghetti for eating his steak. I just sat there whimpering “she told me to eat the steak, she told me to eat the steak” over and over again.
But a lot of time has passed and the Impala has bloomed into a sparkling high-rise hotel with more than 100 rooms and four restaurants, swimming pool and conference facilities. The restaurants vary in cuisine and include international, Italian, Chinese and Indian themes. The international restaurant is on the first floor and sometimes features a buffet. At other times there is either full a la carte or table d'hôte menus available. The food is good, but typical hotel food and not as interesting as the other venues.
The Italian features a range of pizza, baked fresh in their onsite oven. There is also a a great selection of pasta with huge filling portions.
The Chinese Restaurant is really good. Again, portions are generous and you can select from delightful vegetarian dishes as well as meat and seafood. The special fried rice is packed with prawns and chicken and well seasoned. Though it is not my first choice for Chinese in Arusha, it is certainly in the top three.
And if your taste buds are in search of something from the Sub Continent, the Indian Restaurant is not only the best in Arusha, but rivals some of the Indian restaurants I have found in London and Mumbai (well, I admit it was called Bombay the last time I was there.)
One of the ways of judging an Indian restaurant is by the quality of the nan bread. At the Impala, the nan is hot, large, and moist. And the dishes featuring prawns are made from fresh, large prawns flown in from the Indian Ocean.
Thinking of this reminds me of the times I used to have a friend bring me seafood from Dar es Salaam when he made trips there. Because he flew by Air Tanzania which at the time had a pretty poor record of reliability, he used to wait until they confirmed that the flight was absolutely going to fly and then stopped by the fish market on his way to the airport and picked the lobsters and prawns fresh from the boats.
On one occasion, there had been several days of cancellations and when they finally were ready to fly to Kilimanjaro, they had so many people backed up that they put two aeroplanes on. Certain he would fly, my friend collected a couple huge lobsters and five kilograms of prawns and put them in his suitcase. He checked the bag and when they start boarding, selected one of the two jets on the tarmac and boarded. He watched as the first plane taxied away and everyone was ready to go when the captain came over the loudspeaker and announced that he was not feeling well and felt it was not safe for him to fly the plane. So everyone got off the plane and my friend went to retrieve his suitcase. He was told that the bag was on the other aeroplane and he would collect it at Kilimanjaro the next day.
... Except that the flights for the next three days were cancelled. When he finally made it to Kilimanjaro Airport, they advised him that his bag was relocated to the other side of the airfield because the smell from the rotting lobsters was too horrible to keep in the baggage claim area.
Back to the Impala. Be sure to order some pappadam masala at the beginning of your meal and something with the freshly made cheese is a must. The nice thing is, if you have people with different tastes, you can mix and match with orders from the Italian, Chinese and Indian restaurants so everyone at your table can enjoy.